The No. 5 lunch special (or why I crossed the road)

12-02-2005

The chicken had his own, hotly debated reasons for crossing the road. As for me, I crossed it to ring in the New Year (Chinese style).

Photo: CTKPhoto: CTK Why did the chicken cross the road?

I don't know; this is one of the great, unanswered questions of all time. But on Wednesday I crossed the road — Vinohradska Street, to be specific — in order to get some chicken. I had two compelling reasons.

Firstly, it was lunchtime, and the fare at the Czech Radio cafeteria is only slightly more appetizing than hospital food. We'd finished taping the programme early for a change — at about one in the afternoon — and so I had time to venture out for lunch.

Secondly, it was the first day of the Chinese New Year, and there's a nice take out restaurant just across the proverbial road. It seemed the logical choice to ring in the New Year. Now, I'm not a Sinophile, per se: I only knew about the Chinese New Year because a Czech-Canadian intern here at the radio had just done a nice piece about the celebrations here in Prague.

By the Chinese calendar it's the year 4701— and, as it turns out, the "Year of the Rooster". So it was settled: I simply had to cross the road (to get to the other side) and have myself a spicy chicken (or perhaps rooster) noodle dish.

The same two young women as always were working the counter. I placed my order for the lunch special - pikantni kureci nudlicky — and then, with simple but real pleasure, wished the lunch ladies a Happy New Year — Stastny Novy Rok. They were very pleased and I was very pleased with myself.

Never mind that neither of them is ethnic Chinese — one is from Vietnam, the other from Mongolia — their cultures also use the same ancient lunar calendar as the Chinese. Besides, the important thing was that I'd made the effort, and in the language we have in common: heavily accented Czech.

But I digress: we were talking turkey; I mean chicken — no, rooster.

This brings me to back to the tale of the intern, and her feature on the Chinese New Year. One of the editors here is Irish and he said, isn't it known as the "Year of the Cock"? Ah, no. That wouldn't "fly" in North America; there'll be letters.

Chinese New Year, photo: CTKChinese New Year, photo: CTK The retelling of this reminded me of what I'd just read in Newsweek International about the "Year of the Chicken," as the magazine called it. I subscribe to Newsweek, by the way, so that I can be among the last to know about American trends — and yet still know about them. But again, I digress.

Anyway, the magazine reported that this year on the solar calendar is unpopular with Chinese merchants because "chicken" is slang for prostitute in quote "Chinese" (meaning Mandarin? Cantonese? Both? It wasn't explained.) Fewer people buy New Year's trinkets in the year of the chicken/rooster/cock because of possible misinterpretations, it seems.

For my part, I'm not bothered. I'm just glad to have another chance to come up with some New Year's resolutions — and try to honour them.

p.s. If you would like to learn more about chickens and their motivations for crossing roads, please go to http://fusionanomaly.net/whydidthechickencrosstheroad.html or www.chickenjoke.com

12-02-2005